5th July, three days after the original deadline, and the text starts to arrive…
That was when Tom and I made a big decision: we would write the book ourselves. We decided that, for time’s sake, we would start with the text we had already worked through, line by line. On re-reading however, I found everything about it distasteful and unpalatable. Each time we reached a problem Tom would say, “I don’t get this, what happened here?” My reply became predictable: “Well, it didn’t really happen like that.”
Tom would say, “What do you mean, it didn’t happen like that?”
I’d reply, “He made that bit up. I didn’t think that and it didn’t happen.”
We had been drawn into colluding in the ghost writer’s fabrications, which was a crazy roundabout way of working, given that the truth was right there, in my head! Tom, who was at this stage sat at the keyboard, editing the paragraphs one by one in an effort to un-mix metaphors and remove American parlance, had had enough and said, “Look, there’s no time for this, just forget trying to fix it, it’s crazy, just tell me what happened in your own words and I’ll write it down.”
After hours of replacing the ghost writer’s inaccurate paragraphs, barely anything of his original text remained. And when there was nothing left of his to work on we continuedwriting. Working in parallel was clearly going to be the fastest way to proceed, so Tom tackled the latter part of my life from when he knew me, occasionally calling across the room with questions as to what happened in a particular situation, as I worked on my formative years. We already had our structure plan, it was just a matter of sticking to it and editing the sections together towards the end.
July 5th was the proposed second deadline, by which time we had completed 40,000 words. The ghost writer had sent over less than 2,000 more in that time. Come Monday morning, as soon as the children were at school and playschool, we sat down together – me at my laptop and Tom at his computer – and typed furiously. Every so often we stopped to make cups of tea and frantically discuss where we were and what bit to write next. As soon as the children were in bed we continued our work, not stopping until the early hours. This pattern continued through the week to Friday. We were exhausted but strangely delirious with adrenalin and didn’t notice. We had completed 75,000 words in five days! In the meantime I had received 28,000 more from the ghost writer, but it was too little too late and I didn’t stop to look at his work. We were too far into what we were doing and I was terrified that if I stopped to think about it I wouldn’t have the guts to carry on. With every email that dropped into my inbox my dread of a confrontation with the publisher grew.
Around this time I broke the promise of secrecy about the competition, confiding in Tom’s parents and a friend, asking them for help looking after the children while we continued to work like crazy. Luckily the publisher, realising that the ghost writer was weeks away from finishing, revised the deadline further, so we had until 12th July to finish our book. I sent a polite email to the publisher saying that in order to complete the ‘fleshing out’ I needed to know how much time to set aside. We wanted to know so that we could reach the target length and not have our version rejected for being too long or short. The reply gave us the information we needed and at 11pm on 11th July 2010 Tom and I concluded we had done enough for it to be considered finished: 80,000 words to be exact, even if the text was still a bit rough around the edges. I hadn’t had time to go through Tom’s half of the book properly which, while correct in detail, still needed the input of my emotional responses to situations.
Nonetheless, nerves at near breaking point, we wrote an email together describing what I had done. Tom didn’t want to give them any excuses to back out, and insisted that we didn’t specify his involvement in writing and editing in case they used the fact against us. I simply said that my reason for doing it was that it needed to be a book I would be proud to have my name on if I was to promote it. We attached our book and sent it to both the publisher and the ghost writer. Their emailed responses were understandably bitter:
“What a shame that you couldn’t mention this to (the ghost writer) and I as we have both been working so hard and the writing is so good. And he and I both emailed you quite a bit in the last few days, even today. It would have been helpful to know this was your approach and I reassured you even today about the deadline.”
It was true that they had both emailed me, but my nerves couldn’t stand reading them and, frankly, there wasn’t time. My confidence was at an all-time low, having been consistently lied to over the previous weeks, not to mention patronised and bombarded with insincere flattery. I had been made to feel as though I was a trouble maker, incapable of understanding simple concepts and, worst of all, that my problems with the project were of my own making due to my lack of mental stability. I felt betrayed by the ghost writer and the publisher, who talked incessantly about ‘real people with real stories’ but, it seemed, would stop at nothing to twist the truth of those ‘real stories’ and manipulate the ‘real people’. It was no wonder I hadn’t confided in them at that late stage. How could I when I knew exactly what their response would be?
The ghost writer’s reply summed up his attitude and viewpoint:
“I’m disappointed you weren’t willing to work with me on the writing of your book. I thought we were off to a good start.
“I spent many hours sorting through everything you told me during our work together, trying to understand your story from beginning to end. I’m sorry you thought I wasn’t working quickly enough, but I really did believe my method would save us time on the back end. I was trying to make a structure for the book I thought everyone would be happy with. As I said many times over, I was hoping you would go through the scenes I wrote and fix them to match your reality. Instead I gather you didn’t even read them.
“Oh, well. As I’ve tried to reassure you from the beginning, this has always been your book and not mine. If you’re happy then I am.
“As René Descartes said, ‘Souvent une fausse joie vaut mieux qu’une tristesse dont la cause est vraie.’
As with all his correspondences, he missed the point. He made out I was impatient and yet ten days after the original deadline had passed, only 34,000 words had been sent to me, when the target was around 77,000 words. When he stated “You weren’t willing to work with me,” he conveniently forgot the fact that he had ignored all of my requests for a plan or sample from the latter half of the book and only answered the emails that suited him. ‘Work with me’ effectively meant ‘do it my way’. As for consistently saying ‘it’s your book’, well…
Actually, I did read the ghost writer’s scenes and, to use the publisher’s vernacular, I found them ‘staggeringly’ bad! That might just be my opinion but if it was indeed supposed to be my book, then steamrollering over my opinion was a strange way to proceed!
The publisher said she’d get back to me with her thoughts about my book, which was actually rather more than I’d expected! Indeed, it was more than I got too, and she merely passed me on to a new editor. I took this to mean she couldn’t find any reason not to use it, especially as there was no alternative book to publish. We had won the battle and they had given in. At least that’s how it seemed. LR/PP